Detachable collars were one of the earliest mass-produced consumer items, and at one time, considered to be a brilliant innovation. They could be removed from a shirt when dirty and replaced with a crisp new collar that showed a man’s style, distinction and respectability.
By the turn of the 20th century, Cluett, Peabody, & Co. Inc., owners of the ARROW brand, was the United States’ largest manufacturer of detachable collars, producing an estimated 100 million units of collars and cuffs in dozens of styles each year. Although the product range was an overall success, they were faced with a mounting problem: how to keep consumers engaged with a blandly conventional garment they frankly disliked.
ARROW enlisted Joseph Christian Leyendecker, a well-regarded commercial artist of the time, to bring a savvy advertising concept to life – a campaign featuring a new male image to consistently stand for the ARROW brand.
Leyendecker possessed a masterful technique, and, as we know now, a secret weapon—the perfect model, Charles Beach, who eventually became Leyendecker’s lifelong romantic partner and business manager. Norman Rockwell, a follower of and young friend to Leyendecker, described Charles Beach as “tall, powerfully built, and extraordinarily handsome—looked like an athlete from one of the Ivy League colleges. He spoke with a clipped British accent and was always beautifully dressed. His manners were polished and impeccable…”
No known photographs of Beach exist, but his likeness lives on in the many dozens of illustrations that Leyendecker produced for ARROW from around 1905 to 1932. Whether dressed in formalwear or sportier apparel, the Arrow Collar Man’s distinctive features and charisma were readily recognizable to the public, who encountered him in newspapers, magazines, store windows, street cars, and subway trains across the U.S. and sometimes abroad.
Sales boomed and hearts melted. According to company folklore, many thousands of pieces of fan mail—including proposals of marriage—poured into Cluett headquarters. Over his 25-year “career,” the Arrow Collar Man inspired a Broadway musical and made his way into period literature and song lyrics.
Eventually, ARROW moved on to more modern campaigns but perennially brought back the Arrow Collar Man in ads and even retro shirt designs, later in the 1970s. Today, brand mascots are commonplace across many industries, yet few captivate consumers like the Arrow Collar Man.